Thursday, October 25, 2007

The problem is not God, the problem is the choices humans make

October 22, 2007 (cont)
It was helpful to ride to and from the memorial with Jacques, who works in the Geneva Global office in Kigali. GG is an investment research, monitoring and evaluation group whose premise is to show hard-to-translate value in philanthropic investments. We are partnering with them on some projects in Rwanda.

Jacques is from the DRC (formerly Zaire), which borders Rwanda. His story includes experiences as a refugee and it was fascinating to hear his honest and humble recounting of terrifying moments. Though he was not in Rwanda during the genocide, he has a huge heart for “national reconciliation” because of the ethnic tensions from the past that spill over from country to country via refugees. This is a key element unique to certain countries because of their histories. In “national reconciliation” people from different ethnic groups are brought together over common interests and in the process move forward together in positive interaction. It is also referred to as “peace building” which inherently promotes a future of hope as well as healing from the past. I am greatly encouraged that the projects we are funding include a heavy emphasis on peace building.

October 23, 2007
Today we drove to visit some people near Rhuengheri who are receiving rainwater catchment tanks via Moucecoure (moo-say-coor), a Rwanda-based ngo focused on spiritual and economic transformation through community-initiated self help groups. Often the groups pool together their own funds, resources and sometimes manpower to make contributions toward the water project. They also identify the poorest of the poor in their village and take initiative to improve that person’s life, perhaps by building a new house or giving some animals and crops. Moucecoure prioritizes reconciliation of relationships and restoration of hope in their work.

The drive from Kigali is about 2 ½ hours on winding roads between altitudes of 5000 and 8000 ft. The scenery in Rwanda is stunning with lush green plant growth everywhere along tiered hillsides. Every inch is utilized for agriculture, animals, and homes. I’m invigorated by this place because there is evidence of purpose and contentment in work as I look around. As we climbed up and down the roads there were steady flows of people walking on the roadside carrying food, riding bicycles with goods, or working in the foil throughout the fields. Sure, there are those that don’t work and may not be happy, but I sensed an overall pride and joy unique to Rwanda.

My initial shock upon arriving in the village was the difference in the reception of mzungus (white people) here, at least away from the city. As we pulled into the village, kids surrounded the vehicles yelling “mzungu, mzungu” and reaching their hands out to beg. Unfortunately it seems their interactions with mzungus in the past have been more in the fashion of handouts. Or perhaps traditions and lore have perpetuated those ideas. Regardless, I was saddened and reminded of the importance of community ownership and relationship.

The recipients of the clean water have done so much in preparations; they have formed groups to tackle problems in the village and already raised funds toward the projects. Essentially BWM funds are helping provide the installation of rainwater catchment tanks that each serve 4 families year round with clean water. The villagers will no longer have to walk 9 km down a 1000 ft drop of elevation—and then back—each day to the lake in the valley, which is filthy too.

As we listened to a volunteer speak about her community’s response in mobilizing a self-help group, we saw pride and joy and felt a sense of hope across typical barriers. Leading up to the initial water project, one of the groups took initiative to identify the poorest person in the village and then built a new home as well as provided some other tangible needs. BWM funds are not simply dropping a gift off, but instead are supporting and building capacity based on a solid foundation with the help of Moucecoure.

The rest of the day included lunch with our partners in Rhuengheri and the return drive to Kigali. Jacques was in our car and continued sharing freely about his life experiences and cares. His presence and steadfastness has been very inspiring to me. When we got back to the hotel we had a chance to relax and check in with emails or by phone, and dinner brought us to a fabulous Indian restaurant to finish out the day.

October 24, 2007
I had my best night of sleep yet, sleeping thru the night and waking fairly refreshed at about 6:30. The hotel breakfast has been a great start to the day with some fruit, breads, omelets, juices and tea. I’ve continued to maintain a drop in my intake of chocolate and sweets during the trip, which is probably helped by the fresh fruit consistently available for snacks and meals. I will miss that.

Our trip is finishing with a day of visiting some communities with our Rwanda-based partner AEE. They are doing amazing work in a separate rural sector north of Kigali near Buyumba. They are similar to Moucecoure in their approach via self-help groups. I had the privilege of riding in the car with and listening to stories and thoughts of Antoine, the head of AEE. One of my favorite aspects of this trip has been the opportunity to converse at length with fantastic people, and I will miss them all.

Antoine was born in northeast Rwanda and lived through the genocide with his own unique story. He and his wife had fled from Kigali toward Buyumba as the genocide approached, and spent several months in a refugee camp. They had one child at the time and were expecting another (his wife was 2 months pregnant and suffering from morning sickness frequently in the refugee camp). He, like Jacques, has a great passion for improving relationships through reconciliation nationally. This passion is obviously from the implication of moments in his life. His insight and opinions were inspiring to me; his honesty too.

We visited Nyande Primary School where BWM funds are helping provide a rainwater catchment tank. Right now the kids spend school time each day fetching water for drinking as well as cleaning schoolrooms and the latrines throughout the week. When the tank is finished in the coming months the students will be less distracted from school and have more water than before.

We then went a little farther in the bush and hiked down to a newly protected natural spring (thanks to BWM donations). The hike followed a trail dropping 500 feet over a ½ mile stretch at an elevation of 6500 feet. It was difficult to keep good footing, but after filling 15 litre jerry-cans we all started the ascent and had an even worse time. The altitude got to me quickly in addition to muscle fatigue. As we neared the top we passed by a household of an elderly couple that needed some water, so I walked over and poured my water into their basin.

It was a humbling thing to walk as they walk. Many rural Rwandans don’t need exercise because they get it naturally every day. I can understand than now and appreciate the work that goes into getting clean water. It would probably take more than 20 trips per day to get the amount of water we use in the Sands household daily. It’s a little easier to understand why kids tend to be dirtier in the rural areas and their clothes are not very clean…if you only have a very small amount of water, some things just aren’t priorities.

I know the water hike and the trip overall have brought transformation about inside me that will affect the way I talk about Africa and its people. Its one thing to connect with people via a story or video—unfortunately this is all we have most of the time. But it is another to engage with them and walk together. There is nothing like being here. But once implicated on the ground here it changes the way you speak and the motivations behind your speech. This is a gift and blessing that can be shared with other people who only hear and do not get to see firsthand.

Which reminds me, as I close, of another thing Antoine mentioned: the ministry of presence. It is a forgotten art in America, as busyness and selfishness unfortunately guide hearts easily. Rwandans appreciate people coming to help, but even more they value that you’re spending time with them…that you are present with them. Time is viewed differently, and so is family. This is one of the great challenges as we enter into American life again with families, work, hobbies, community life and so forth: to be truly present with people and live out love and mercy together.

October 25/26, 2007
We are flying over the Atlantic right now on the 3rd leg of our flights from Rwanda to Nashville. Much of my airplane time has involved reengagement into work and the busyness of home. Thankfully work didn’t pile up terribly, but there are still emails and phone calls hat start pressing the mind with weight. Before you know it you’re quickly forgetting your “presence” in another land and it takes work to maintain and grow some love and joy from afar now.

Pictures will be helpful as we re-enter our lives. They don’t tell entire stories but they are an asset to personalizing stories and speaking from the heart with grace. I didn’t have a digital camera on the trip so I have been photo-free in my blog posting. I wonder if its been helpful allowing the imagination to wander into more fullness beyond the confines of a picture. Yet if my heart and joy is to dig deep and get to know people instead of words and numbers, pictures are a part of the story. I’ll try to post some in the coming days

There are quite a few phrases and one-liners that weigh on me still, and perhaps it’s a good time to share those now. Like any words or ideas, they are not always across the board and they lack the hours of context and backdrop leading to their utterances. But I want to share them with the hope that they spur minds to think and hearts to connect and bodies to action:

On investment that fails:
Investors often operate with the minimum expecting the maximum with no risk.

On fighting poverty:
Poverty is a mindset, not just a lack of materials goods and resources. If you change the mindset, you change a nation.

On culture changes:
There is a great tension between the more modern/western culture continuously growing in the cities, all the while the majority of Rwandans live in rural areas clinging much deeper to traditions, family, relationships, and purposeful work. The goal should not be to replicate city culture in the village or vice versa, as it is arrogant and presumptuous. Unfortunately most city folks stay in the office more frequently, and become less aware, engaged and affected by situations in the places the come from or people they represent.

On change:
Part of managing change is making readjustments along the way.

On being a refugee and having hope:
God prepares you for the things in the future, not what you want, but what you will need.

Referencing Jeffrey Sachs/End of Poverty:
Good development is helping people get their foot on the first or next rung of the development ladder.

On home life:
Having a good home is not about absence of conflict; it is how you work through conflict that is vital.

On asking “Where was God in the Genocide?”:
Do we want God to be a policeman or a judge? True love must involve choice.

On asking “Where was God in the Genocide?” (part 2):
God was everywhere…there is no one in this country who would say that God was not with us in that time. They may say that religion failed, and it did miserably, but God was present and working even through these dark things. The country was bent toward terrible evil that had been festering for years. Even with the family I lost, the friends I lost (and there are so many) I am thankful the injustice came to a close so that our children can once again have hope. God was merciful in bringing evil to its head and ending it rather than sitting from afar with hands folded and letting it continue for generations.

On being present:
In Rwanda we value a “ministry of presence” very highly. If you come and help build a house, you are often concerned with if you’re being helpful or a distraction; we’re just thankful you are with us and enjoy your presence. These are conflicting mindsets.

On achievement:
You can’t work everywhere and achieve much.

On why Rwandans and millions around the globe have unmet needs and yet the global community has more than enough money and resources to intentionally approach and provide for the needs; Perhaps said as, “How does God let people live like this [in poverty and deep brokenness] and why doesn’t he do something?”:

The problem is not God, the problem is the choices humans make. God is very present and merciful, man is not, and this difference will continue to bring awful things to bear until Christ returns to restore brokenness for good.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

From Kigali

October 21, 2007
Jetlag is still in effect on our bodies as we are all now waking up around 4-4:30am and dozing in and out of sleep from there. For the most part I’ve done well with sleep and feeling rested during the day, but I’m sure I’ll get fully acclimated just as we prepare to go back to the US and start all over again.

I took my first bucket shower of the trip (I had done “wet-wipe showers” in Lwala) and it was probably better than most bucket showers since Norma had warmed water for us to use. I splashed water on my body and soaped up a little before rinsing off. The warm water felt great on my skin, since my other showers on the trip thus far had been lukewarm at best. A nice bath is very appealing right now!

After a brief breakfast of tea, hard boiled eggs and bread we headed to the hotel to pick up the rest of the crew. During the day we visited 3 communities that had received clean water in the past 6 months through the work of GWAKO and funds of BWM. The first village was fairly small, though the well serves about 1500 people in the area. I had seen video footage of what happens when we’ve visited communities in the past, but nothing is like the real thing.

As the matatu bounded from rut to rut a faint singing could be heard. We turned a corner of bushes and suddenly the vehicles were surrounded by villagers singing and dancing. I could barely step out of the back of the matatu before my hands were grabbed and arms raised in the air by some women, pulling me into the celebration. The crowd gradually made its way toward a seating area under some shade trees.

Since most homes are too small, village members will bring chairs and couches to a shaded area and set up an outdoor meeting room. As introductions are made, drinks (typically bottles of Sprite, Coca Cola, and Fanta Orange or Grape) and snack crackers are placed on coffee tables in front of the guests. Its good to be wise with how fast and how much you drink because they are quick to crack open another drink for you if the first bottle gets too low.

Introductions are great because they provide opportunities to not only hear from the community members but to also share something about yourself. In preparation for the trip I had spent some time thinking about what I would say in 60-90 seconds via a translator. I could just give my name and a simple “hello” or I could give some thoughtful words of encouragement and try to connect a little deeper. Its an honor to represent so many people in America and bring greetings from them. Its also a privilege to walk side by side with these friends in Africa and remind them that we are all impoverished in our souls and need each other as well as a reliance on God in order to wake up every day with hope.

Another portion of the program usually involved acting or singing and dancing by village members. Then a few representatives would get up to speak about the difference clean water was making in their lives. They would share about how they used to have so much more sickness that resulted in vomiting and diarrhea and that from the time they received clean water and improved their hygiene habits they had not been sick. They were living longer and feeling stronger. They could care for the widows and orphans more easily.

Jena would take an opportunity to talk with them as well. She has taken great care to learn Luo (the primary language of western Kenya) enough to be genuine and expressive with the village members. She is loved and welcomed with her charisma and ability to treat everyone at a family level. She would encourage the community members to keep up the good work, reminding them that they had the ability and knowledge to keep moving forward and that we were thankful to walk alongside them. She would also encourage the young girls and women to make good decisions with men and to go to school so that they could live out their dreams.

Sometimes meals are provided as well including foods such as rice, chicken or beef, some cooked greens and ugali (like pound cake in density and cream of wheat in taste). Great care and intention would be behind the meal, representing the thanksgiving of the village. We learned that if visiting more than one community that is serving a meal, its wise to not eat too much in order to eat a little at each place and acknowledge their efforts. They take great pride in giving back for what they’ve received.

The second community we visited was a church group. They had a pond that they had used for water during the rainy season, and otherwise they walked 2km each way to a stream of filthy water before they received a well. Another NGO (non-governmental organization) had come several years ago and never finished drilling. The community had been patient but experienced many letdowns along the way. Finally GWAKO was able to come and put in a well with a hand pump to fill the need. They were so thrilled that they requested another well within the 1km area to alleviate the pressure on the one source. I think we were all captivated by the village members’ ownership and pride. They emanated a true excitement from improved health and strength, which only they would know.

The final community we visited included some widows and orphans. During the program a dance troupe of many of the orphans performed a beautiful choreographed dance. Though orphans were likely present at any other point of the day, I was struck with the realization of how vital the community members were to each other and how helpful clean water was to them.

We dashed to the Kisumu Airport to catch our flight back to Nairobi. The airport is small, and after checking in we wandered to the outdoor eating/relaxing to get some fresh air. About 20 minutes before we were to board our plane, a representative came out and told us the flight had been cancelled, and if we hurried they would get us on the other flight that was about to leave. What a relief that they told us, as we would have had to wait until morning to try to fly out again!

We flew to Nairobi and joined some friends at a mzungu hang aptly named “The Carnivore.” It is what it sounds like: meat, meat, and more meat. As you walk in you pass a huge pit with various meats spinning over flames. The waiters bring skewers of meat to each person, and you simply tell them if you want it or not…typical meat like chicken, pork, beef, turkey, as well as exotic meat like ostrich meatballs and crocodile. I tried everything except the chicken liver and particularly liked the ostrich meatballs. I also celebrated a return to sweets with a chocolate chip brownie topped with vanilla ice cream!

October 22, 2007
We stayed again at the Gracia Gardens and flew the next morning to Kigali, Rwanda. My anticipation had been building for this portion of the trip. A few weeks ago we rented Beyond the Gates, a lesser known movie about the Rwandan genocide released by the BBC and a UK film company around the same time as Hotel Rwanda. It retold the true story of a Catholic school in Kigali that became a refuge for Tutsi’s as the genocide erupted throughout the city and countryside in April 1994. I was struck by the more humanistic/less Hollywood approach that opened eyes a little more to the raw brutality of the events before and during the genocide. It really twisted deep in Cari and me as we considered God and the Gospel in the midst of pure evil.

Landing in Kigali brought the movie to life visually; it was as if I had just been here as I looked across the rolling landscape and city. Except the city was filled with life and hope now. Every turn as we drove toward our hotel brought images from the movie and horrors that took place throughout the streets and homes. Though Rwandans can’t erase history, they have done a lot in recent years to create a new chapter and positive response to show what hope looks like in the depths of despair.

We visited with out partners at Geneva Global and heard some firsthand accounts of our projects in beginning stages and the villagers they will impact. Though Rwanda brings its own set of strengths and difficulties, a lot of the factors remain the same including the need for clean water as a good starting place in community development and health improvements.

Rich and I then went to Kigali Genocide Museum and Memorial. Words can’t adequately express a lot of the emotions and thoughts, but I don’t think you have to be here to be affected; Perhaps it implicates deeper than words on paper or scenes from a movie but being there only reignited and refueled the anger and the sadness in me over the genocide. This kind of evil pierces any beating heart.

Yet I was also struck by the love and mercy that were heroically displayed by normal humans. The dense darkness could not prevail against these things. At some point evil would run out and defeat itself, coming to its end once again. Its hard to answer the questions “Where was God during the genocide?” or How could God let this happen?”

I remember the story of Jesus and the man born blind. The disciples wanted to know why the man was born blind, looking for someone to blame to quell their uncertainty and lack of explanation. In their minds someone was responsible and needed to pay. Jesus responded by saying that the man was born blind not because of his own sin or his father’s sin, but in order for God’s hand of mercy to be displayed for all to see and believe. The fact that we’re not all born blind is mercy from God. The fact that there are survivors from the genocide and everyday heroes spread throughout Rwanda is the mercy of God on display. While we join some of the disciples in replying, “these are very hard sayings” Jesus sits next to us and with his hand on shoulder and head nestled close reminds us of His promises that never fail and the provision He always gives, particularly in sacrificing His own life in order to bring life through death. We should instead ask, “Where was God during the death of Christ”—the most unjust event in history—and remember that God was right there in his promises and fullness.

Monday, October 22, 2007

From Lwala to Kisumu

October 18, 2007
During our flights I had a chance to read and reflect on Psalm 146. It has been a refuge for me over the past year, a great encouragement that God is both capable and committed to his image-bearers on earth. The unlovable find love, the unmerciful find mercy, the betrayed find trust and reliance in him. And I am one of them! When I was dead in my sin and flesh, Christ breathed life in the Spirit into me.

I can think of few things better to focus on. That God sought me and loved me first, and I am invited and equipped to be his arms and feet into the world. That is freedom, and I ask him for grace to bleed this freedom in all I do on this trip, to the glory of God and for his kingdom’s sake.

After a good night of sleep at the Gracia Guesthouse in Nairobi, we flew to Kisumu (western Kenya) and drove 3 hours in a matatu (van) to Lwala. Lwala is a community that BWM has been working with for the past 2 years, initiated through a friendship with Milton Ochieng’. Milton came to America from Lwala to go to college at Dartmouth and is currently in medical school at Vanderbilt (his brother Fred is at Vanderbilt as well). His father had a dream to build a medical clinic in his community, but HIV/AIDS took his life before he could fulfill his dream. Milton has been working hard to bring this dream to reality ever since. After much preparation and work, the clinic opened in April 2007. BWM has been a core part of seeding the clinic in resources and planning.

The ride to Lwala was bumpy and long, but great for taking in the scenery and conversation along the way. The landscape is beautiful rolling lines of green, with lofty trees and hut roofs throughout. Occasionally we would drive through a more populated area, and a market would be in full swing or people would be walking and riding bicycles around. Sometimes it was best to not look ahead, as the road is narrow and sometimes passing cars made for close calls!

A few miles from Lwala we turned off the main road and entered a dirt road that would take us to the village. Thankfully the rains had not been too heavy, and we were able to make it fine except for a flat tire as we neared. The driver and his friends took care of it quickly and we continued a few more minutes into the Ochieng’ family’s homestead (their group of houses in the village). As we came to a stop, the ladies ran out and surrounded the van and sang “Welcome, welcome the visitors…” to us.

We spent some time meeting the locals while walking through the village. Though I only know a few words and phrases, smiles and gestures go a long way. As the afternoon went on we relaxed in the homestead and sat around and kicked a soccer ball around with the kids. A beautiful peace exists here as you sit in the gentle breeze and listen to the cows, goats, chickens and birds calling.

The sunset was stunning. The sky seems so wide and deep here. As things grew dark we grabbed flashlights and headlamps to supplement the lantern light inside. Our main hang out is the Ochieng’ “big house”, where Milton’s parents lived. A couple of people played chess and some of us played cards as we passed some time discussing the day. Meanwhile, a delicious meal of rice, beans, cabbage, and boiled egg soup was prepared for us, and we ate around 8:30. The meal provided an opportunity for us to hear some background from each of the clinic workers, whom we would spend time with at the clinic the next day.

I climbed into bed at about 10:30. This included pulling a bed net over the bed and getting things situated for sleep, and I must have done well because I don’t remember a thing (except for a few early morning rooster crows) until waking up at 7:30. I took an Ambien to assist in a good night of sleep, and wore earplugs to help block most of the animal noise, especially as the sun came up.

October 19, 2007
This morning we all went to the clinic to observe and help the staff. In its 6 months of operations, the clinic (now officially a “health centre” due to its success) has seen almost 5000 patients from the surrounding area! At least 25% of the patients were treated for illnesses that otherwise would have resulted in death, which is incredible as well. There is typically a line of people waiting along the outside of the building each day. The clinic is unique in the area regarding its cost to the patients. It is free for patients under 5 and over 70 years of age, as well as expectant mothers and those with HIV/AIDS. For anyone else it is about 60 shillings to see the doctor, which is not quite $1 (US). This includes treatment, whether filling prescriptions or dressing a wound.

The clinic has 10 staff members, including a manager, doctor, nurses, a secretary, lab technician, security guards and groundskeeper. They also have a pharmacist, named Joash, and I had the privilege of working with him to start out. He showed me the pharmacy (2 rooms with shelving filled with bottles and boxes) and explained how to fill prescriptions. Since it wasn’t too busy yet, I pre-filled some of the anticipated doses of popular medicines, which allowed him to get ahead. I used my counting skills and carefully filled packets with their respective medicines. I was impressed with the variety of drugs they have on hand, which is a huge blessing to the people here.

During tea time (a morning break—they love their chai tea here!) we had a chance to talk more with Peter, the head doctor. With all the challenges they face here, its incredible to see the progress and growth. If it closed today, it would be beyond success. People are more healthy and living longer, and that is beautiful!

After lunch we walked to the Lwala Primary School for a special presentation. There are about 350 kids in the school, ranging from 5-18 years old. When the Jars guys were here last summer they sang to the kids in the school. This brought great anticipation to our visit since Dan and Steve were coming again. All the students brought their seats into the courtyard area and Damaris the head teacher started the festivities. Jena made some introductions and then Steve and Dan sang a couple of songs for the kids. We then had the joy of receiving a song from a group of kids. One of them led the song and the others would chime in with a repeated phrase. They were dancing and clapping and by the end Jena got up and joined them. It was quite the little party.

Dan then read his children’s book to the kids, which is called “The One, the Only Magnificent Me”. Afterwards we passed out children’s books (several suitcases worth), which we brought from a friend in the US. The kids looked over the books and shared many laughs at the pictures. The books will be added to their library and enjoyed for years to come.

A little rain could not prevent the soccer match later in the afternoon. Lwala has a team and occasionally plays neighboring villages, and we had requested a game if possible. There is a formality in it all, as beforehand one team sends a note of invitation to the prospective team, which is either affirmed or denied. Thankfully it was accepted and at about 5:30 both teams went out on the pitch in their red and blue uniforms to begin play. One highlight was the mzungu (“white person”) on the Lwala team, our very own Barak. He is our 1000 Wells Project Director. What joy to see him jump right in there and play well, especially with a few close calls on scoring plays. I’m sure he was worn out from the altitude (about 5000 feet above sea level) and constant motion! The Lwala team won 1-0, scoring on a header that was pretty amazing.

From there the evening remained fairly relaxed. We were able to spend a little time reflecting and sharing our thoughts among the group, and played some cards again too. At about 9pm dinner was served: lentils, rice, some meat and pineapple. The meals have been tasty and filling, which has been a pleasant surprise from what I imagined beforehand.

After dinner came dance time as the ladies of the homestead cleared the tables and pathway around them and started singing songs about us/to us. They started a dance train around the tables, clapping and bobbing around freely while they sang. There is sadness in the midst of joy remembering that we’ll be leaving the next morning. The love, care, grace, and strength exhibited has been contagious. It changes you in many ways, which are mostly yet to be known.

October 20, 2007
I enjoyed another good night of sleep in the hut, waking around 7am. Omondi (Milton’s oldest brother and the head of the house now) made some mandazi for us for breakfast (similar to donuts). They are served with chai tea, and taste wonderful when dipped into the tea. After breakfast I played with some of the kids, kicking around a ball made of plastic bags and string. The morning was relaxed, providing a good opportunity for me to reflect and refresh.

Goodbyes are hard, especially when you’ve just gotten settled and more comfortable. Our friends were very generous beyond fixing food and hosting us with lodging. They gave of their hearts and their treasures trusting that we would honor them and speak well of them when we remember them.

Spending 3 hours in a matatu is not what I’d choose to pass an afternoon, but it was our best means of getting back to Kisumu. This time around there was less conversation, as the day promoted reflection during transition. I think it is helpful to have that in the midst of new experiences when comforts are removed. It is vital when it comes to processing events and emotions in order to best share stories upon returning.

We checked in at the University House and had a little time to clean up and rest before dinner. Then we walked a block away to meet with the staff of GWAKO, a partner BWM has been working with since 2004. They have a great gift in the opportunities and ways they work in villages around Kisumu. About 10 years ago Benjamin started GWAKO after seeing a need for clean water to fight diseases in his region and doing something about it. They focus on creating women’s groups to address village needs beginning with clean water and hygiene and sanitation training. In the process a water committee is formed and there are multiple opportunities to strengthen the community’s ownership of the project. The community members aren’t just asking for help; they are actually helping to put the wheels in motion and then carrying out programs that will add sustainability and dignity. We at BWM have learned how critical hygiene and sanitation are in the approach to clean water in addressing the needs and health of a community.

Shem is in charge of the drilling preparations and training as well as implementation. Lillian and Elizabeth lead the hygiene trainings and follow up with communities. Benjamin’s wife Norma is a school teacher in addition to the various things she does with GWAKO (particularly helping with follow up in the months and years after a project).

After a brief meeting and introductions, we walked across the street to a Chinese restaurant for dinner. “Chinese food in Africa” you may wonder? Well it was a helpful transition from the village foods not to mention good Chinese food too. Our stomachs have hung in their, but its nice to have something a little more familiar occasionally.

Barak and I spent the night at Benjamin’s house just outside Kisumu. We arrived around 9pm and his 3 kids were sleepy but so excited to see us that they hadn’t gone to bed yet. Since we were all tired we talked for 20-30 minutes and then went to bed. His home was wonderful with tile floors and bedrooms for Barak and I. They moved into the house a couple of years ago and have done a lot of work from the dirt floors and plain cement walls it had at the time. They enjoy hosting visitors and take great pride in having a place available that is not much different from a guest house or hotel.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Landing in Africa

Well here is something worthwhile to blog; not that other topics and experiences are lesser, but in a fast-paced world that unfortunately accepts (and promotes) succumbing to some things just to get by, its not easy to find a voice and feel that it is important to share. The beauty is that any person’s work can bear fruit that restores brokenness in the large and small places of the world. We just have a hard time believing that. Most of the time it is easier to ignore the background and history and simply keep the bootstraps pulled up until you reach a point of rest. The trouble is, that rest is the most difficult to accept and promote. It is not oft longed for, yet it is the very thing necessary to enjoy life.

I boarded a plane in Nashville yesterday afternoon and joined some good friends on a journey to Kenya and Rwanda. The itinerary is compelling, including visits with communities Blood:Water Mission has been engaged with for 3 years as well as meeting people for the first time and digging through what it means to sacrifice and serve together. In 2004 I traveled to South Africa and dipped into the HIV/AIDS crisis personally. I have faces and names and stories in mind as I consider the pandemic, which helps prevent paralysis and promotes acting in love and mercy. I learned that every man and woman is born in the image of God, and worthy of love, dignity and respect. That’s easy to say, yet terribly difficult to actual live out. And no matter where I live, work, and move I get the privilege of entering into that struggle with hope every day.

After a short flight to Detroit, we transferred to a plane bound for Amsterdam; about a 7 hour flight, which I filled with the lovely task of cleaning out my email inbox as well as watching Evan Almighty and diving into the #1 Ladies Detective Agency stories (set in Botswana) with The Full Cupboard of Life. Of course there were conversations with friends and a brief hour of sleep as well. Our time in Amsterdam was very brief, as we quickly made our way to our connecting flight that has brought us to Nairobi after another 8 hours. I filled the time with more of the same, but fortunately slept a few hours this time around. We landed in Nairobi in the evening so hopefully I’m worn out enough to sleep heavy tonight.

Tomorrow morning we have a lobby call at 6am to head back to the airport for a short flight to Kisumu. From there we’ll drive a few hours in a matatu to see our friends in Lwala. For some history on this community, check out the film short at

I’ll try to check in again by the weekend after our 3 days in Lwala.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Isaiah 55 -- The Compassion of the LORD
1-3 "Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.
4-5 Behold, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. Behold, you shall call a nation that you do not know, and a nation that did not know you shall run to you, because of the LORD your God, and of the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you.
6-9 "Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
10-11 "For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
12-13 "For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall make a name for the LORD, an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off."

Some thoughts:
"Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters...he who has no money, come, buy and wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?" (1)

The invitation is to all; no one is beyond need of this satisfying food and drink. One of the greatest struggles for anyone--and especially one who is successful and not "in need"--is to know his/her need; to be aware of the thirst and hunger that will never be satisfied by the stuff of earth. And to think that God offers what we need at his cost and supply!

"Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David." (2)

God desires to lavish these gifts upon us, that we may be restored in fellowship with God even in part on earth. Chasing the food and satisfaction of things of this world brings death, whereas coming to Christ brings life. And this is based on God's covenant with us, promises he keeps according to his mercy, grace and power; Promises that are not according to anything I've mustered or accomplished but instead purchased by the life, death and resurrection of Christ.

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD....For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it." (9-11)

This is great news! By faith we can know God's goodness and mercy, having hope in all things. My motivations are always tainted, and often return empty or at least short of the goal. How great that God intends good and restoration AND he delivers accordingly! Many have been wounded by individuals, by the church, by leaders, by family; their trust is lacking and cynicism likely high. And based on experience, why not? But the beauty of faith in the Gospel is that Christians can move through and beyond hurt and trials by relying continuously on God's objective promises. He is faithful even in our faithlessness. And his promises are backed with the blood and atonement of Christ, which leaves little question of God's intention or plan. His promises are meant for freedom!

"For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall make a name for the LORD, an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off." (12-13)

The images are of beauty in the desert, of life coming into places where hardness and death are persistent. This is possible according to God's promises and through his Spirit. Yet the beauty and " life" do not exist for themselves; Instead they give signposts for all to see of God's faithfulness and providence. The fruit is present to remind us that God IS who he claims to be and will deliver on future promises just as he's been faithful in the past and present.

The responses of the human heart are beautiful as well: joy and peace. These are specifically chosen and go far beyond happiness and a lack of conflict. Joy and peace are deep-seated and honor every person involved, freely entering into any situation honestly with the hope of the Gospel. And this hope does not disappoint, as we see over and over throughout history and God's word. In this we--the thirsty and the hungry--find wine and milk, as well as rest, as it only comes through Christ and the Spirit.

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